The 5 Principles of Garden Design

The Main Principles are:-

  1. 1 Unity of Theme.

In other words there must be a sameness or similarity about the look of the garden. Everything should harmonise with each other. Whether there are contrasts in plants, colours or artefacts, still somehow everything fits into a unifying theme. I.e. a Mediterranean garden will have plants and colours that are from the Mediterranean. A Japanese garden has themes that are Japanese. A cactus garden has nothing but cacti in it. Nothing seems wildly out of place and yet it attracts the eye.

  1. 2 Balance

We love symmetry. It makes us feel good giving us a sense of contentment or satisfaction. There is feeling of safety in numbers when we see 2 things or more. Hence balancing left and right whether it is objects, colours or kinds of plants, gives us a framework in which we can observe other shapes and forms. It allows our eye to explore our imaginations, images and dreams that might be suggested by expressions of creative artistic minds.

  1. 3 Interest

So what interests the beholder?Well we all love humour. A boy fountain pissing out of his Willie makes us smile. Fish spouting water into a pond.Interesting specimens of plants. Colours that is subtle, gorgeous, contrasting, plain or simple. Statues or Installations that amuse the eyes with their line of form, curves, shapes and textures. Sanctuaries where one can rest have a private conversation, think or an intimate affair delight the imagination. We also like mystery, something round the corner that draws our interest to move on.

  1. 4 Rhythm

Sometimes you can feel a rhythm about a place. Is it a vibration, atmosphere or an attitude?

Noise also plays an important part as in the sound of water cascading from a waterfall. Sometimes there are crickets or bees buzzing, twittering birds flying or the wind rustling the leaves of trees.Wind chimes or mobiles can add pleasantness to the atmosphere.Plantings, Shapes and colours can add a visual rhythm to greet the eye.

  1. 5 Movement

A Straight line speeds the eye very quickly along into the distance whereas curves slow it down. We like straight paths when we want to get quickly from A to B, mow edges of lawns or focus the eye on to an object d’Art. However we are fascinated by curves that work, whether it is a mystery around the corner or a shape, a sculpture or a surface.


There are many more features employed in designing garden. E.g.


 How does everything relate to each other? From what perspective do you get the best view? Should the different heights of say statues relate to each other in a ratio? What is in the foreground and background? Geometry is in garden design, Plants and objects.  The Golden Ratio 1:1.6 is the most aesthetically pleasing ratio of design.

Reflections and Shadows

Light reflecting off water, reflections from shiny objects and shade from trees all add to our enjoyment and well being from being outside breathing fresh air watching the seasons and observing nature.


I like things that have dual functions. I.e. Fish Ponds that function as swimming pools. Lawns that you can play games on. Summer houses that can be an Art studio. Permaculture structures that drain into a fish tank and water that can be recycled. Leaf mould that acts as compost material etc.

Wildlife and Insects

Animals and insects give life to gardens. The symbiotic relationship that exists between creatures and plants is essential for the natural well being of gardens of love unless it gets out of control. Nature generally knows best. Man is at his best when he helps nature and does not go against it. So no barbed wire. Instead living fences using fruit trees and shrubs. Encourage Beavers, pine martins and even wolves to keep down the numbers and make habitats for other wild life.

Summary of the Principles of Design

Combining some or all these features is the creative work of a good garden Designer/Artist. These Principles are worth learning, appreciating and understanding because I have found they work in all the other Arts. Whether it is in Music, Theatre, Film or Painting. So by educating the eye in garden design one can be also educating oneself to be a good musician, actor, photographer, Theatre Set designer or sculptor.  Of course these are in different fields requiring different skills but an appreciation of what makes art work, which is a leap in the imagination, is what makes it a masterpiece.